In the funnybooks: 'The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite'
While browsing at Borders today, I took a few minutes to thumb through the new Tori Amos-inspired comic anthology Comic Book Tattoo (mostly to see the Dean Trippe/Jason Horn story). What I saw looked nice, but my general ignorance regarding Amos led to disinterest. On the shelf near it, however, was the trade paperback of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá's The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite. I've heard many good things about that series in the past year, so I bought it along with a copy of Masters of American Comics. After reading The Umbrella Academy from cover to cover today, I have to admit that I'm on board.
For those puzzled by why I would "admit" such a thing, I should point out that series writer Gerard Way is the frontman for emo band My Chemical Romance. As will surprise few of you, I despise that band. Their music, contrived style, marketing gimmicks, the whole package. When it was announced that Dark Horse would publish a comic written by the vocalist for My Chemical Romance, I assumed it would be a cheap ploy to empty the wallets of awkward teenagers. Dark Horse would cash in on Way's popularity and pray that the kiddies would also try out their awesome books like Hellboy or The Goon. As much as I liked Gabriel Bá on Matt Fraction's Casanova, I was sure he was just on the book for a paycheck. Dark Horse editor Scott Allie reveals in the book's Afterword that I was not alone in my initial skepticism:
In a lot of interviews around the release of this book, I copped to being initially skeptical of doing a book with a rock star. I talked about that because I knew other people would be skeptical of this guy from My Chemical Romance coming into comics, and I wanted to disarm that notion, because by the time the book was being promoted, I loved the damn thing.I was surprised when the positive reviews for Way's book piled up, and impressed when I got the first issue on Free Comic Book Day (thanks to Junkman's Daughter's Brother in Athens). As I am wont to do, I decided to wait for the paperback collection. It was released in July, but just found its way into my paws.
The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite is, frankly, pretty darn good. It's the story of several "gifted" children with special abilities taken in by a benefactor, inventor Sir Reginald Hargreeves, who provides the children care and training so they can one day save the world. One communes with the dead, another is a time traveler, yet another grows into a powerful space traveler with a gorilla body (as yet unexplained), and so on. While the basic concept lends itself to X-Men comparisons, The Umbrella Academy is more inventive and quirky than any recent X-books other than perhaps Peter David's X-Factor (pre-Messiah Complex) or the classic Peter Milligan/Mike Allred run on X-Force/X-Statix.
Way and Bá give us a peek at the Umbrella Academy as youngsters in the wonderfully titled chapter "The Day the Eiffel Tower Went Berserk," but the book tends to focus on them as adults. After being estranged for years, the crew are reunited at the funeral of a prominent character -- and then all Hell breaks loose. Aided by a talking chimp, a living mannequin, and a savvy detective, the Umbrella Academy take on personal conflicts, killer robots, a twisted orchestra, and one of their own to fend off the end of the world. There are twists in the tale I'll refrain from spoiling for the sake of future readers, but it's a pretty fun ride.
Though the pacing did feel a bit rushed in places, Way should be commended for accomplishing more character development in six issues than many veteran writers manage in twice that -- I was genuinely sad when a character is killed in the fifth chapter. Although some elements of the story aren't terribly original, those that are make the book worth reading. Bá's stylish art brings the surreal imagery to life, and it would be criminal to ignore the exceptional coloring work by Dave Stewart. It's little wonder The Umbrella Academy has won over so many skeptics and critics, and I'm certainly on board for the forthcoming second volume. The first issue of The Umbrella Academy: Dallas hits comic shops in November. You win, Gerard Way, but I'm still not going to listen to your band.
The trade paperback of The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite also includes an introduction by Grant Morrison, covers by James Jean, character sketches by Way and Bá, and the short Umbrella Academy stories released before the six-issue series.